UHS sees increased demand for flu vaccine

Flu shots are always in demand for people attempting to guard against the illness, but this year anthrax scares have made people even more attuned to disease prevention.

Although the demand for the influenza vaccine is higher at Yale and across the country this year, experts said they expect there to be enough vaccine to prevent any shortages.

Paul Genecin, the director of University Health Services, said the flu shot may not be a rational public health measure to deal with the threat of anthrax.

“The only benefit of the influenza vaccine is protection against infection with influenza virus,” Genecin said. “However, many viruses, not just influenza, cause flu-like syndromes. People advocating immunization of whole populations as a measure to aid in the detection of anthrax are more likely to mislead the public with the belief that they are protected from flu-like illnesses. Therefore, when people develop their flu-like syndromes, they may feel that they have anthrax.”

Genecin also mentioned the differences between the symptoms for influenza and anthrax.

“In the initial stage of anthrax, influenza-like symptoms do occur,” Genecin said. “However, in contrast to anthrax, true influenza-like symptoms are much more likely to include a runny nose and nasal congestion. A flu-like illness without nasal symptoms would greatly increase concern about the possibility of anthrax.”

The primary targets for immunization with the influenza vaccine are high-risk patients, including the elderly and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer and HIV infection.

Health care workers also are prime recipients of the vaccine, in order to protect their patients. These workers are also exposed to many sick people and therefore have an increased risk of becoming ill.

At UHS, high-risk patients are identified and asked to come in early to be sure they have protection against influenza.

Millions of Americans receive annual flu shots. This year, more vaccine is being manufactured than ever before — about 85 million doses — and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say a shortage is unlikely.

“There should be no shortage of flu shots nationally,” said Ravi Durvasula, a professor of epidemiology and public health. “It is not universally accepted practice that everyone receive a flu shot. Flu shots should ideally be given first to those at high risk for complications of influenza.”

There has been a substantial increase in the demand for flu shots, approximately 50 percent greater at UHS.

“In accordance with the CDC recommendations, we focus our initial vaccination efforts on high risk groups such as the elderly, patients with chronic medical conditions, and health care workers,” said Michelle Benish, a clinical coordinator of education, training and pharmacy services at Yale-New Haven Hospital, in an e-mail. “We have maintained adequate inventory to support our vaccination program throughout the flu season.”

According to the CDC Web site, the public health system is doing its part by actively monitoring many different diseases as part of ongoing programs for protecting the nation from outbreaks of infectious disease. Clinicians, infection control experts and health delivery systems, together with public health officials, play key roles in providing a network for recognizing and responding to infections.

Despite these concerns, Yale students are not rushing to get flu shots out of any fear of anthrax.

“I’ll guess I’ll get the flu shot when my mom takes me,” Ryan Allen ’05 said. “I won’t be getting the shot because I see anthrax as a big problem. — Besides, the flu shot doesn’t protect you from all types of the flu.”

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